Archive for Slow Sound

Why Atlas Sets?

Posted in Structure, Themes with tags , , on May 28, 2014 by glenncbach

I have been reflecting on the outlines and parameters of Atlas Sets as a project, a body of work, and an exercise in autobiography. The original impetus of the project–collecting a series of recorded sessions by a list of collaborators in a box set with a catalog in time for my 50th birthday in 2015, along with a celebratory publication party in Joshua Tree–has been supplanted by a more modest agenda. I see now that the real heart of Atlas Sets has never really been the recordings, the catalog, or even the impending mid-century celebration, but rather the conversations themselves, both in the moment and later in the office, transcribing the recordings into a coherent and faithful documentation of our exchange of ideas. By focusing on the conversation, I have been able to identify, articulate, and reflect on the questions important to me as a composer. What does it mean to organize sounds into structured compositions? What is my own relationship to improvisation and recording? Who, what, and where is my community?

I don’t necessarily have the answers; in fact, I’m more interested in refining the questions. The more I investigate my life in sound, broadly and deeply, the less certainty I have about finalizing my responses.

This process of questioning has been complicated and enriched by the addition of a new project and body of work, Atlas Place, in which I turn my attention to conversations with creative people about the places in which they live and work. This trajectory has been critical to my own process and self-identity as an artist for as long as I’ve been making work. The infrastructure of Atlas Place promises to allow for a wide-ranging, and long-lasting, series of conversations about how we relate to our geographical location, and how the places important to us have shaped our work and who we are.

What about Atlas Sets, then? If I’m no longer invested in finalizing a catalog and box set, can the project adjust to allow for a more open-ended structure? I’m still interested in meeting musician and composer friends for a meal and discussing the outlines of a possible collaboration, so could I not allow Atlas Sets to open up and breathe a little, let each collaboration run its own course rather than set a deadline? Perhaps a newsletter format, or an occasional release on MPRNTBL?

These questions received a new charge after reading Frances Morgan’s review of David Grubbs’ Records Ruin The Landscape: Cage, The Sixties And Sound Recording in the June 2014 issue of The Wire. Morgan traces Grubbs’ handling of the inherent contradiction in recordings of experimental and improvised music: how does a recording of an experimental composition or an improvised session coincide with the common artistic stance of open form and indeterminate results? I have been considering these issues in my own work and in conversations with collaborators such as Phil Mantione. Again, I can’t say I have the answers, but I believe I’m understanding the questions a little better. As Morgan writes in his review, there are now “more perspectives with which one can view the landscape.”

So, here’s to a fresh look at Atlas Sets, its connections to future conversations under the Atlas Place umbrella, and its role in the overall Atlas infrastructure.

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Bach + Mantione: Extramusical 3

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , , , , on June 24, 2012 by glenncbach

Philip Mantione wrote:

But when you “toggle back to the point of view of the audience” aren’t you really still hearing from your own perspective.  How can it be any other way?  How can you group an audience together and conceive of some consensual experience they are having?  And even if you could, how would you determine the difference between that and your own?

Yes, I will always hear from my own perspective, as we all do. And the fact that there can be no agreed upon consensual experience doesn’t mean that there isn’t an experience going on that is more than the sum of the individual parts.

In projecting myself out among the audience and trying to experience the performance as an observer rather than an active participant, I aim to grasp the overall shape and tenor of the soundscape as an image in my mind. Since the soundscape has no discernible edge and is constructed out of infinitely shifting relationships between source and receiver, this process can only fail. Still, for my own curiosity, I assume the role of witness/caretaker of the soundscape with its musical, emotional, social, and psychological impact on the audience, estranged and idiosyncratic as they are.

For me, this hyper awareness of the soundscape-as-entity, multi-faceted and ever shifting, is one of the extramusical threads I’m currently exploring. The other is the idea of ‘critical distance.’ When we talk about a particular sound and its reverberation in a space, the critical distance is the point at which the level of the direct sound is equal to the level of its own reverb (from the point of view of the listener). Applying (bastardizing) that idea to the live improvisation, I’m interested in the precise moment when the sounds generated by my performance approach the level of existing ambience or room tone of the space itself. Often this is very, very quiet. It’s safe to call it the threshold of audibility. This type of inquiry happens primarily in my solo work and with my most recent collaborations: qqq and SCSE. With the Qs, the three of us share an interest in very quiet and very subtle alterations of the existing ‘noise floor.’ With SCSE, the hovering at the threshold is only possible because of our individualized amplification spread out through a space.

Is my interest in finding and activating these very quiet relationships extramusical or simply a technical nuance of the performance? Am I interested in these phenomena because I notice how profoundly they impact my participation in the ongoing improvisation?

Maybe I’ll just call it Slow Sound and leave it at that…